Chilean salmon farmers give blue whales back their freedom

With a growing number of fish farms moving their production activities away from the Chilean coast, the blue whale and the Chilean dolphin will soon be free to roam the waters again. Their newfound liberty is one of the accomplishments of the partnership between the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Rabobank, aimed at making salmon farming in Chile more sustainable.

WWF and Rabobank partnership for sustainable salmon farming

Chile is the world’s largest salmon producer after Norway. The majority of the salmon is produced by fish farms, which aim to meet the growing global demand for fish.

Downside

While fish farming has certainly been a boon for the Chilean economy, there’s a definite downside to the rapid growth in the number of salmon farms. The majority of these farms are located off the Chilean coast, the natural habitat of blue whales and Chilean dolphins. These large sea mammals need this space to gather their food and be able to produce offspring. To compound the problem, the presence of fish farms also hurts marine biodiversity – and the people of Chile’s many small fishing communities.

Partnership between WWF and Rabobank

In order to reconcile profitable salmon farming in Chile with care for nature, the environment and people, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Rabobank entered into an alliance back in 2011. The large-scale salmon producers Rabobank counts among its customers can play a central role in improving sustainability in their sector. The WWF is dedicated to preserving biodiversity around the world and was one of the drivers behind the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) initiative, an organisation which sets global standards for sustainable fishery. Producers that comply with these standards receive the ASC certificate for sustainably farmed fish. ASC works in conjunction with fish farms and processors, supermarket chains, food service companies and environmental organisations.

Promising developments

At year-end 2015, can we say that the partnership between the WWF and Rabobank has completely transformed the Chilean salmon farming industry? Well, no, but recent developments have nevertheless been promising.

Listed below are some of the accomplishments of the partnership.

  • Marine biologists working off the coast of Chile are using sonar technology on the ocean floor to carefully track the movements of blue whales and Chilean dolphins. They are using this information to determine which sites are most advantageous for fish farming. The first of these sonars were financed by the project initiated by the WWF and Rabobank. Information regarding the routes and habitats of the animals is disclosed only to the WWF and the businesses involved, so as to prevent unwanted tourism and keep hunters at bay.
  • Based on the sonar data, some businesses have already moved their production activities in order to leave the blue whales and dolphins in the area in peace. These efforts have proved to be challenging at times. 
  • A small but growing number of Chilean salmon producers have received the ASC certificate for sustainably farmed fish. This creates potential opportunities for these producers to do business with markets and buyers that require this certificate.
  • Research funded by the WWF and Rabobank reveals how the fish farming sector can help improve the marine environment – and how the sector itself can benefit from this in the process. This might involve more effective protection of the ocean floor or alternatives to the use of young fish as feed for farmed salmon. The research also shows how reduced water contamination increases water oxygen levels, resulting in healthier farmed salmon.
  • A programme has been launched dedicated to improving the position of the local fishing community. One of the key points of this programme is ensuring that local fishermen have sufficient fishing space at sea and in inlets and coves. The programme also encourages fish farms to involve the local population in salmon farming. 
  • In assessing loan applications from Chilean fish farmers, Rabobank uses a checklist of social and environmental risks. 
  • The partnership has already expanded beyond the WWF and Rabobank: several large seafood companies have joined the alliance or, at least, underscore the importance of the changes initiated by the WWF and Rabobank.

Related content

Sustainable salmon farming in Chile